Tuesday 18 July 2017

Everyone knows what YA is, right?

I set up a poll asking which of the seven books listed readers thought were YA. Since I was asking on my Facebook and Twitter I felt safe including three of my works on the basis most respondents would have read them.

Here are the results after 200 votes (before I spread it more widely).

So 5% of readers think A Game of Throne is YA.
And 87% of readers think Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is YA.
And the YA content of Prince of Thorns vs Red Sister is 10% vs 12%....

EDIT: More accurately after 1275 votes those percentages are:
Prince of Thorns  9.4%
Prince of Fools    7.5%
Red Sister            9.4%

Cleared that up! Job done :)
(with hindsight I probably should have included a "none of these" option)

I made the poll because I was interested by some of the comments on Red Sister.

These included:

 "This is super YA" & "I love Mark Lawrance but that book was bad." from one reader.

"Lawrence took every grimdark cliché, amped up the blood to 11" from another.

To my mind these are examples of YA and GRIMDARK being used as pejoratives.

Image result for red sister

previous poll showed readers considered Red Sister my least grimdark book. And this poll here shows that within the limits of statistical error there is no significant increase in YA content between Prince of Thorns and Red Sister. What has changed is the style and content, and when a reader is unhappy with that they may reach for more easily expressed condemnation.

There are definitely readers who see a change of style as a form of betrayal. They expect their authors to do the same thing each time. I guess I can see that. If they want romance or a crime thriller they will go to authors who write those. If they pay for the new Lawrence book they want some more of what they liked about Jorg... It's not entirely unreasonable. It's not a game I'm going to play but the punishment come with the territory of innovating. I've blogged on that before.

I said recently in a reddit AMA:

"I was once asked for a short story for an anthology, and at the time I had a whole bunch of unpublished ones so I sent them all and said to pick one. The guys running the thing wrote back and said they liked them all but couldn't believe they were all written by the same person."

To expect an author to only write in one style is like expecting an actor only to change costume between roles. While many authors do stick with a style so that you can reliably say "this is a XXX book" I suspect that in the majority of cases that is a choice rather than because they lack the ability to do otherwise.


  1. I know an author that was successful in a specific genre. When she wrote a novel for another genre, her publishers and agent told her no, XXX writes XXX, go write that instead. That was one angry writer.
    I'm not sure of the specifics but she sought new representation. She changed her pen name and her online identity to a gender neutral as well. She was vocal about her struggle to re-invent herself and has done well, thanks to the support of the writing community. Typecasting in literature is as prevalent as in acting. Not just by publishers, but by readers especially. An indie author comes to mind that I only recently discovered is writing in two complete separate genres under different names. A few very big names come to mind that hit that barrier and smashed it. Talent always wins, but it's an issue that cannot be avoided because it's the nature of the beast.

  2. your analysis is entirely too reasonable. We're don't post stuff on the internet to understand things, we're here to fight!

  3. Not a single one of those books is YA. Harry Potter 4 through 7 would count, but the first three books are firmly middle grade.

  4. I agree with your words, Mark.
    I like to think of myself as a keen learner, and here are some things that I realized and defend eny author should see:

    a)We human beings are always learning. Be it suffering or observing, we do learn, and knowledge changes us. Hence, why should we condemn an author for writing in a different perspective?

    b)As an aspiring author, I have been thinking about different stories, wich are experienced by different characters. I have only read a few pages of Prince of Fools (too many books, only one guy and a roaring college at his back...mea culpa), but it was all the took me to realize that Jarlan and Jorg are two different persons. They see things differently, the think differently. The story, being viewd from their perspective, are very likely to be different.

    I was honestly curious about YA, and surprised when people labeled Game of Thrones and Prince of Thorns as such. I do not know the criteria for such definition, but the latter novels seemed dark, adult and serious to me.

  5. Sometimes I think reviewers use the term YA disparagingly when they hoped for sex scenes and there weren’t any. However, sex scenes are often included in order to sell more copies of an otherwise dull or poorly written novel.